CITIES NEAR AND DEAR TO ME THREATENED

With natural and manmade disasters erupting places near and dear to me, this week my city observed commentary on public radio 99.1 KB, and select websites everywhere, goes plural: it is cities observed.

Most immediate is my vulnerable Malibu, and the peninsula of Point Dume , where we live overlooking a shimmering Santa Monica Bay. Smoke from the nearby raging fires wafted in the skies above, but it was, is, safe. For now!

Hurricane hot winds whipped trees, and lifted the heavy planters into the pool, but no real damage was done, except to the Bromeliads I cultivate. We were made safer just weeks prior by our abiding long time neighbors, the Harringtons, cutting down a threatening pine tree, that had been shedding flammables on our property.

Those Pines and Eucalytus trees can be explosive torches, which some of Malibu’s misanthropes don’t seem to recognize, or care, despite the fire department warnings. As for our neophyte local government, it makes pronouncements, but prefers to sit idly by and let others the heavy lifting when it comes to the safety, and welfare of residents.

Not so safe was my former back woods community of creek side homes for which I was once a board director, on leased forest lands in the mystical Matilija Canyon north west of Ojai.

Located at the dead end of a long twisting road, it was evacuated in the Thomas fire that encircled and scorched bucolic Ojai. According to maps of the fire, the canyon community and our former cabin seems to have survived.

Not so lucky was large swaths of Ventura County, where hundreds of thousands of acres were burned and hundreds of homes lost. The fire continues only partially contained.

Another city very much on my mind these days is Jerusalem, roiling one again, as it has for most of its turbulent 3,000 year history, this time no thanks to our the impolitic announcement of our impolitic president.

We were actually suppose to be there now for the holidays, to celebrate my birthday in nearby Jordan, at the ancient remnants of the city of Petra, and of course, be in Jerusalem, to meet with the extended family, pay homage in Yad Vashem to our holocaust victims, place a prayer in the holy Western Wall, and, ecumenical us, go to Bethlehem Christmas eve,

Though I wont be able to insert the pieces of paper the prayer was written on, I can disclose it was, ironically, a plea for peace, good will, and health and happiness to all this holiday season. I hope someone is listening.

 

CRITICAL COMMENTARY NEEDED EVERYWHERE

As cityscapes everywhere continue to grow, so does the need for critical commentary; especially now, as our democratic institutions are being compromised by a nefarious fusion of greed, ignorance and fear. If you don’t think so, you do not have to read further. Take a walk on the beach and think about climate change.

In my purview of L.A. this includes the need for questioning the proposed ravaging of the County Museum, the green lighting of over designed high end developments, and the red lighting of needed affordable housing. Shameful, as I comment on public radio 97.5 KBU and websites everywhere.

In Malibu, a paramount question is whether the city will do the right, and moral, thing, hosting the homeless, or just talk, and talk, and talk, about it as those in need go hungry. Sanctuary city indeed,

Meanwhile, the city center continues to be misshapen as a tourist trap, and Legacy Park is finally being exposed as another pricey mistake by a neophyte City Hall, which can’t get its act together to even make happen a promised right turn lane off of the PCH.

But it certainly can bend the municipal budget to serve its pensions and payrolls, and select consultants. With no oversight to speak of, the city slyly continues to approve contracts for questionable services, from hosting lunches in Sacramento, to mowing grass.

This includes the maintenance of a rarely used practice field in Trancas Park that can be easily converted for needed Little League and AYSO use, and take development pressure off the environmentally sensitive Bluffs Park. That is if City Hall had any gumption.

Meanwhile, my dogs wonder what ever happen to the promised resurfacing of their park at Trancas.

The list goes on and on, but for now they will have to wait, for on the front burner, and simmering, is the proposal before the Santa Monica dominated school board to allow Malibu to create a stand-alone school district.

For the last seven years that feels like 70 to involved parents, Malibu’s school advocates have repeatedly argued for breaking away from the district, noting the differences and distance between the cities.

\Though previously agreeing to the separation, and having Malibu jump through all sorts of financial hoops, the board’s duplicitous Santa Monica majority apparently now is backtracking, and doesn’t want it. Neither does the new superintendent, who obviously knows who signs his checks.

So instead of blessing the separation as had been anticipated at the upcoming board meeting, scheduled for Thursday Nov.16th, up for review will be some unspecified lesser arrangement that allows them to keep control of the district , and keep shortchanging Malibu.

Malibu’s advocates for the separation are chagrined, to say the least, and are expected to pack the meeting to once again argue for the separation. As a show of force all supporters are being urged to attend. I certainly will be there,

 

 

MALIBU’S DREAM DEFERRED

If cities everywhere, in California, across the country, world wide, have a common concern it is not their urban design, as usually explored here, it is public schools.

People may not give a damn about their communities; not pay taxes, vote, mow the lawn, or even nod to neighbors, being nihilists or just plan anti-social. But whether misanthropic or not, having a child in public school connects them to the world.

It is a thin string that tends to bind even the most frail human settlements, and in a democracy, such as ours purports to be, is essential to its function and no less to its future. Schmaltzy I know, but I believe it.

So even if my four accomplished children are way beyond public school, as I certainly am, I am indebted to the institution and as the unquestioned foundation of democracy fiercely support it.

This prompted me the other night to join with the Advocates for Malibu Public Schools to once again rally for an independent school district before a sadly impassive, if not duplicitous, local school board.

How else can you describe the board’s Santa Monica majority dithering inaction made more exasperating by the sanctimonious city’s posture as a bastion of liberal values. Most hypocritical is its treatment of Malibu.

There is just no justifying for Santa Monica, with its 84 percent voter majority, continuing to hold Malibu hostage, with its 16 percent minority. This is further aggravated by the communities being distinctly different and disconnected, separated by 20 miles, one essentially a preening suburban city and the other a exurban village. After all is said and done, democracy’s true test is the majority’s responsibility to guarantee minority rights.

 

So once again the other night the minority made its case, with speaker after speaker making the point that Malibu is simply asking local control of the schools within its isolated city lines, something that Santa Monica has, and takes for granted

Further, convincingly supported by hard facts, they argued that under the current conditions, with a self serving Santa Monica majority on the board, Malibu is being treated separately and grossly unequally; that Malibu is in a phrase was being short changed in curriculum and cash.

And so it continued, late into the night, with the board’s Santa Monica majority dodging the democratic imperative of home rule, and the paramount moral issue of what will best serve the students of Malibu.The board’s utter failure to step up and do the right thing, reminded me of a poem by Langston Hughes:

,

“What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up, like a raisin in the sun?

Or fester like a sore—and then run?

Does it stink like rotten meat?

Or crust and sugar over- like syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags, like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

 

 

HOUSING COULD MAKE MALIBU’S CIVIC CENTER CIVIL

It was no surprise reading a L.A. Times business story recently that major commercial real estate developers are increasingly considering adding housing to their mix of mall brews.

That malls and mini malls, and shopping centers are struggling is not news for developers, real estate investors, and city planners-in-the know, as I comment this week on public radio 97.5 KBU andf select websites everywhere.

More and more shoppers are frankly shunning the malls in favor of on-line shopping, where in the comfort of their homes they can view a wealth of products, weigh bargains, and, if are alert to specials, enjoy free home delivery, and easy returns.

As a result, some 25 per cent of America’s malls are expected to close in the next five years., while others struggle to become more appealing. This includes recycling malls in the mode of walkable villages, featuring speciality shops, boutiques, and a range of intimate eateries and entertainment

Now the latest ingredient is housing; and not coincidentally needed more than ever, as California suffers under an acute housing shortage, in particular affordable housing.

Challenging certainly will be the recycling of previously commercial developments, especially the malls anchored by major department stores. It may in some cases prompt bulldozing; after all it is the land and location that is valuable.

Challenging also will be the obvious need for some major rezoning, which depending on the proposed housing, nearby neighborhoods may not like.

This brings me back to my conflicted Malibu, whose efforts at planning at best have been behind the times, and in some cases unfortunately behind the counter.

Malibu I feel is ripe for this recycling in its so-called civic center, which actually is less a center than a scattered collection of suburban mini malls. And no doubt the pending approved shopping centers there catering to tourists will only make it worse, and I suspect the developers also may be having second thoughts, given the shifting shopping trends.

And so once again, as I have strongly suggested in the past, the city consider proposing work force and senior housing in the civic center, specifically for our teachers and first responders. Lets even include a few units for city employees.

In a phrase, housing would make the civic center civil. Indeed, if designed well, it could create the livable, viable sea coast village for which the city has always yearned.

Besides, it actually could reduce traffic on the PCH. Residential uses generate half of what commercial does, especially if they work locally.

It also would more than satisfy Malibu’s affordable housing element required by the State. Certainly it would please the Coastal Commission, and make it look more kindly on the city.

But most of all it is the right thing to do. We owe it to those who serve us.

 

A LAMENT FOR MY NEW YORK; READ AND WEEP

Sam Hall Kaplan commiserates with Jeremiah Moss, author of “Vanishing New York: How a Great City Lost Its Soul.”
lareviewofbooks.org
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BACK AND WALLOWING IN MALIBU

This week on public radio 97.5 KBU and select websites everywhere, some musings after returning from family and friends on the always engaging east coast

There, among others things, I saw my youngest, a proud Malibu High alum, as is his brother, enter into a welcoming post graduate Harvard. Go sharks!

Then it was on to New York, to attend the dedication of a new international think tank, a partnership of my alma mater Cornell University and Israel’s Technion Institute, heralded as the birthplace of what’s next.

This made me feel like the problem solver I once posed as, challenged by a promising intellectual future, albeit now set against the grain of a dysfunctional America floundering under a deranged president. Sad and scary.

Then it was back to mellow Malibu, with the persevering wife, the comforting views and sounds of the ocean, my faithful furry and feathered pets, a demanding landscape, and a certain solitude not found elsewhere.

So, at least this week there will be no philosophizing about, or defining, what constitutes “neighborhood character, “ as some followers had requested, no crafting a magical formula our planning challenged Malibu can apply in reviewing the parade projects coming through its front, and back doors.

After several decades of serving on various committees and commissions, writing letters and articles, in effect volunteering what beyond my Malibu would have been some remunerative consultant assignments, I have to observe that our self aggrandizing city leaders don’t really like listening to anyone with whom they or their friends and advisors might disagree.

There have been exceptions, of course, and they should be congratulated for their efforts. Yes, Malibu is a city of misanthropes, and quite frankly being one myself I tend to embrace the collective eccentricities.

It makes thinking about eventually moving away difficult, if not impossible, despite at times being tempted. But it would be daunting to pay the anticipated capital gains, as well cleaning out the study and the garage, and giving away thousands of books accumulated in a lifetime of reviewing, And what about my exotic plants? Who will nurture them?

More difficult would be leaving friends, relocating pets and saying goodbye to our singular refuge on Point Dume, which my wife had lovingly refurbished, raised several children hosted countless Thanksgivings, and where I have lived longer than anywhere else in my life. And where would we move to?

How does one weigh these considerations in defining neighborhood character? Think about it, perhaps best when walking to the Point Nature Preserve and the beach beyond.

As for Malibu, the Planning Commission already has boldly approved the concept as integral to the city’s vision statement. Next up is a review by the conflicted City Council, which, as its wont, may decline and just request our costly city attorney and ever-avaricious consultants to consider it.

 

 

 

LA MOUNTAINTOP HOME FOR BERGGRUEN INSTITUTE

It looks like Los Angeles, is going to get another architectural icon, in the hills west of the 405 freeway bordering Brentwood, as I comment this week on public radio 97.5 KBU and on select websites everywhere.

Proposed on an immodest 447 acres, adjoining the already prominent parade there of the Getty and Skirball museums and cultural centers, will be a relatively modest, but distinctively sited campus for the heretofore-indistinct Berggruen Institute.

It is being designed by the internationally renowned firm of Herzog & de Meuron, with an assist by the workaday Gensler Associates, and landscapers Michael Desvigne and Inessa Hansch, in what’s described as an archaic style of concrete and untreated wood. Most of the site will be left undeveloped,

Whatever, expect it to be pricey. Though relatively new-on-the scene, the Institute emerging out of the upper echelons of the multi national finance fraternity is well endowed, headed by a majority of suits from the board rooms of banks and out of the back doors of governments.

Details were sketchy, other that it will be a linear campus, consisting of administrative offices, meeting rooms and a lecture hall, complemented by a cluster of residences for visiting scholars. and a home for the Berggruen family

From the perspective of a user advocate, given its size and setting, I expect the campus, as a mountain top village of sorts will be a most pleasant and desirable environment.

But there are questions, including how public will the Institute be; how many visitors can it expect and how will they be accommodated? Also, how many people will be working there, and where they could afford to live? And what will be the impact on the adjoining Mountaingate and Brentwood neighbors, if any, and on the already crowded 405 Freeway?

And for me as an arts and entertainment critic, there are other thoughts. Yes, it will be art, if you consider as I do that architecture is a social art creating places and places for human endeavor. It also will be interesting how the institute complements the neighboring very public Getty and Skirball.

As for judging its entertainment value, that is more of a stretch, if you as I think of entertainment as a performance or production, generating enjoyment, interest and diversion.

I have my doubts about the Institute, dedicated, as it says it is, to the design and implementation of new ideas of good governance. That’s praiseworthy words.

But will it actually improve anyone’s life other that those associated with the Institute? Probably not, if it functions as so many non profit institutes do these days, as tax dodges, providing jobs for family and friends, gatherings of GQ grifters, networking for the not particularly needy, and select self anointed cerebral celebrities.

But certainly not all. A daughter happens to work as a staff attorney for institute dedicated to aiding the vulnerable, and marginalized, harmed by crime and violence; the institute’s resources going to real services and not for architecture or hosting indolent academics and pandering former politicians.

As for new ideas of good government, I’ll save that for another commentary.

ANNUAL TRANCAS CANYON DOG PARK ROMP

 

One of the more appealing things about my Malibu beyond its magnificent weather and coast, is the distinct outlander traditions of its natives, especially among the persevering pet owners.,

Indeed, many people moved here not only because of their love for nature, but also for their animals. And to be sure, we’re talking all type of animals: cats, dogs, chickens, peacocks, pigs, turtles, horses, lamas, goats, birds of every feather, and whatever else may be in the homes of our neighbors.

I’m not telling, for it might attract a local Homeland Security type in our sadly increasingly monitored world, to come knocking, someone having reported hearing screaming, when it really was just a voluble Green Amazon parrot, such as our Zuma, calling for dinner.

As I comment this week on public radio 97.5 KBU and select websites, there are actually several happenings in Malibu that can be considered communal. These include the chili cook off, the Pt. Dume July 4th Day parade, and the Concert on the Bluffs, which, by the way, is this Sunday..

Then there are the more serendipitous happenings., such as when a high surf attracrs swarms of locals, running down our block at sunrise to sunset to the beckoning ocean below.

Or, a gathering of a gaggle of residents at City Hall to protest staff and council bending over for a developer, or skirting administrative norms to accommodate whomever.

And among the lesser known gatherings, there is the annual convergence of canines at the Trancas Canyon Dog Park to honor the birthday of a fondly remembered four legged friend, named Bodhi.

Held recently, it is an exception to the park’s canon not to bring food within its double gates, in this instance a tail wagging variety of treats served out of a shredded pinnate

Whether any of the scrounging dogs remembered Bodhi or not, they certainly celebrated the occasion, groveling for the treats on the raw decomposed granite park floor while their equally mixed breed of owners looked on.

There was enough for all, so food fights were avoided, especially among the usually more aggressive breeds. The owner’s know who they are, but there will be no pointing fingers or chiding here of petulant pets.

That is because frankly one of them is my barking Corgi known fittingly as Bobby the Bad. He is annoyingly willful, but he is also faithful and, smart and, of course, a rescue and mine. His sidekick who he would no doubt kick if his legs were only longer is my other dog, CoCo, a sweet Shih Tzu.

She loves her treats, but at this party she hung back from the pack, especially from the determined “A” types . Even the more docile dogs got into the fray, including the lovingly groomed Golden Lab Zoe, and the regal Lady, a great, Great Dane. Giving them respectful room were the pack’s more dominant personalities, notably the ravenous Rocky, and the tireless Tanner.

But my alliterating report ends here, for in keeping with a commandment among the regularly attending owners, my friends, what happens in the dog park, stays in the dog park.

 

A BERKSHIRE RAMBLE

It’s back on air on public radio KBU 97.5 and in print after several weeks on the east coast that included returning to my cultural roots in western Massachusetts.

There, I am happily to report the Berkshire Mountain is still joyfully flourishing, as a wellspring of dance, music and the visual and performing arts, in an accessible historic cluster.

For us that meant locating in the pleasant village of Lenox, and making daily forays to the surrounding attractions.

First and foremost was nearby Tanglewood. The Koussevitsky Music Shed was inviting as ever, though to be sure I no longer sat on the lawn for concerts, but in a chair under cover and closer. And the summer resident Boston Symphony Orchestra was as crisp and refreshing as expected, in a program of Mozart’s youthful violin concerto number 3.

The soloist was Daniel Lozakovich, a 15-year-old European phenom, making his American debut. He performed faultlessly, and was cheered enthusiastically, especially by his mother, who sat near us.

He joined her after intermission for the program’s second feature, Mahler’s fourth symphony, and arguably his most genial. This performance also had a family touch, the orchestra being conducted by Andris Nelsons, and the last movement’s vocal centerpiece, delivered by his wife, Kristime Opolais.

In the evening, it was the Ozawa Hall, and a tribute to Ella Fitzgerald and the American Songbook, batted out enthusiastically by Tanglewood’s vocal troupe accompanied by members of the Boston Pops. I just loved Stephanie Blythe, who echoed Ella Fitzgerald.

The next day Tanglewood’s own orchestra performed, with the addition of world renown trumpeter Hakan Hardenberger, in a program that included some several modern scores. Ever engaging was Prokofiev’s Symphony No. 1, less so Mark-Anthony’s Turnage’s From the Wreckage.

To be sure, the humid weather and thunderstorms were not as climate perfect as Southern California’s, but the festivals and museums forays were sublime, notably also Jacob’s Pillow for dance and a forever expanding and engaging Massachusetts Museum of Art in North Adams.

My Berkshire ramble prompted the thought of Los Angeles, and how the region’s emerging and engaging cultural gazpacho might be better organized and orchestrated to serve Southern California’s expanding and diverse population, fractured and institutionalized as it is.

Ah, if some of those selected self aggrandizing arts efforts were only less insular and more attuned to audiences and artists, how refreshing and energizing our cultural scene could be; if only our vain patrons and pandering politicians were less ego involved, indeed, if only pigs could fly.

 

 

MALIBU PAYS SACRAMENTO CONSULTANT HOW MUCH? AND FOR WHAT??

For the last 13 years the city of Malibu has dutifully paid the firm of California Strategies nearly $2 million, without any apparent written accountability.

And as I comment on public radio 97.5 KBUU and select websites, , this is contrary to commonly accepted consultant practices, especially in the public sector.

With the Sacramento-based firm’s contract with the city of Malibu soon up for extension, perhaps it is time to halt the reflex action of rubber-stamping that has been the practice of past councils, and openly review the agreement. Time seems ripe for some City Hall transparency.

In answer to a pointed question, Malibu City Manager city Reva Feldman stated the firm has provided verbal “updates and political context,” to her several times a week, though she noted “we do not keep written logs of those calls or of meetings in Sacramento.

The firm principal Ted Harris added California Strategies does not prepare or submit written reports,” nor does it have a written list of the City’s goals, objectives, and priorities in our files.”

That was in response to a city request, prompted by a Freedom of Information inquiry I submitted with the assistance of KBUU and several concerned citizens.

In variance to the statement, Harris signature is on the firm’s recent contract with Malibu in which goals, objectives and priorities of the city are prominently listed. The executed contract further states “all files of the Consultant pertaining to the City shall be and remain the property of the City,” and “the consultant will control the physical location of such files.”

In addition, a scan of reports obtained in the FOI request indicated tens of thousands of dollars have been expended by councilpersons Lou La Monte, Laura Rosenthal and Skylar Peak, and Feldman, on numerous trips to mostly Sacramento, and also to San Francisco and Washington, D.C. Not found was any reference to California Strategies.

While their expenses were documented, no notation could be further found indicating what particular venue was visited, what was discussed, and how it might affect Malibu. There have been brief oral remarks at Council meetings, of events attended but no specifics recorded.

ln the public and private sectors, when dealing with consultants, there is among professionals a commonly accepted hypothesis of “a reasonable expectation of service.” .

Perhaps this would be a good time for City Hall to adopt that standard, starting with a review of its agreement with California Strategies.